Trump’s First Instinct on Impeachment: Going Back to His Racist Roots

News of an impeachment inquiry prompted the president to issue an ‘us vs. them’ response — and the ‘them’ was highly racialized

Activists ask for impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump as they gather on Capitol Hill on September 23, 2019, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

The impeachment saga hit a new crescendo on Tuesday, and with it, Donald Trump’s racism reached a new low.

As soon as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that an impeachment inquiry would be opened against President Donald Trump, the president responded on Twitter with an “us vs. them” anti-impeachment/fundraising video. Not surprisingly, the “them” was highly racialized. While the video may be lost in the political deluge, it’s important to note that this was the commander in chief’s immediate response.

And what a response it was. See for yourself:

Eight out of the 13 Democrats featured were people of color: Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Rep. Ted Lieu of California, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rep. Maxine Waters of California, Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, Rep. Al Green of Texas, and Sen. Kamala Harris of California.

People of color make up only 22% of the current Congress. A lot of prominent white Democrats have called for Trump’s impeachment, including House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler and Katherine Clark, vice chair of the Democratic Caucus. Neither of them was featured in Trump’s video.

Let’s not treat this as any coincidence: Trump knows that racializing the inquiry is throwing red meat to his base. His rise to power in the 2016 presidential election was fueled by a racist backlash, and stoking racism has always benefited him politically. (Hell, his political career began in earnest with his birther conspiracy theory back in 2011.) Framing impeachment in racialized terms — and using that framing to fundraise—is a morbidly effective strategy for the president. It says: “Those people are trying to prevent me from serving four more years. Will you allow it?”

It’s not just a despicable strategy, it’s also a dangerous one: The president’s attacks on lawmakers of color have already had real-world implications. A Trump superfan who sent pipe bombs to nearly a dozen of the president’s most prominent rivals and critics — including President Barack Obama and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey — was sentenced to 20 years in prison last month. And earlier this year, a Coast Guard officer and self-proclaimed white nationalist was arrested after planning a domestic terror attack, with targets including Harris and Waters. Trump’s continual attacks on Omar — one of the first two Muslim women ever elected to Congress — led to an increase in death threats against the congresswoman.

Shortly before Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry, Trump laid out his nationalist vision during a dog whistle–filled speech at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. “Like my beloved country, each nation represented in this hall has a cherished history, culture, and heritage that is worth defending and celebrating and which gives us our singular potential and strength,” Trump said. “The free world must embrace its national foundations. It must not attempt to erase them or replace them.”

For the president, embracing national foundations means demonizing — and endangering — those who question his authority. That’s his best hope for surviving this impeachment saga.

Award-winning journalist covering politics, gender, race, activism, and more. Puertorriqueña.

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